Daily Archives: April 22, 2011
In former times, generations of little Italians (and, no doubt, little boys and girls everywhere) grew up with this simple concept constantly hammered into their heads. The idea was that without self-control one would merely drift through life instead of living, and that life would soon give the boys and girls ample occasions to use the skills thus acquired.
This concept applied, once, to pretty much everything, and to the spiritual life too. And in fact, it is very clear to see how physical and mental discipline is a fundamental component of the spiritual one. We can, today, safely say that when the concept of physical and mental discipline went to the dogs with the non-repressive, softly-softly approach of the last decades, spiritual discipline rapidly followed in its decay.
It is part of the now almost forgotten wisdom of ages past that you need to strenghten your body if you want to strenghten your spirit. This is where penance comes into play. Penance is not only our willed suffering (more or less acute, I must say; very often, not really so acute) for Jesus, so that we may share in His Passion. Penance is, in his daily working, the way we force our body to discipline, so that our spiritual life may more easily bear fruits.
How can I really understand the Passion, if I can’t even stay without chocolate for a month or so? How can I give a tangible value to Jesus’ sacrifice, if in my daily life I cannot even bear to sacrifice meat on a friday? How can I keep Satan out of the most dangerous, darkest corners of my mind if I can’t say “no” even to very small gratifications of my appetite?
Nella vita nulla si ottiene senza sacrificio. In life you can’t obtain anything without sacrifice. This simple truth was planted into the head of countless generations of young Italians, and helped them to go through the challenges of their early life with the right spirit, and through the even bigger challenges of the adult life with a well steeled armour.
The newer generations seem to think differently, and to suffer accordingly. They are taught that in life, nothing will have to be obtained with sacrifice. They don’t learn by rote anymore and as a result many of them can’t even write. They refuse the idea of discipline and serious application and as a result US stipends go in growing numbers to Asian applicants. And they refuse the idea that spiritual progress involves bodily sacrifice and as a result, their spiritual life suffers and decays more and more into a meaningless collage of easy platitudes not requiring any discomfort.
Please compare this with the lesson of this very day, a day under the sign of sufferance, and of discipline to the utmost thinkable degree. Look whether Jesus chose the fuzzy, “let us embrace each other”, “let us clap our hands and celebrate” way. Look whether He – He Who could choose, which we can not! – decided to wash away our sins through a “march for peace”, or a “rock concert redemption celebration” or, instead, through an extremely painful torture followed by one of the most atrocious deaths imaginable (I know of worse ways to execute people of course; but the Romans weren’t savages like, say, the Comanches; nor were they refined bastards like the Chinese).
Discipline is not there anymore, which is why penance is, nowadays, difficult to understand. But penance is not a masochistic exercise in self-punishment. Penance is at the same time offering and training.
It beggars beliefs that people who get up very early in the morning to “hit the gym” at 6:30 or 7:00 am (a praxis, I am told, not so infrequent in the dear U S of A) don’t understand that the very same principles they are applying to their physical health applies to their spiritual one too.
At the same time, it doesn’t surprise that lack of discipline in everything should lead to the explosion of obesity so clearly observed everywhere in the fat and lazy Western societies and more so – obviously – among the younger generations now completely detached from the most elementary concept of……. discipline. Instead, we prefer to fabricate excuses, like inventing improbable and utterly ridiculous “genetic conditions” (what? Were those not there only one or two generations ago? Are those miraculously not present in Italy, France, Spain, Greece, but mysteriously appear among US Americans of Italian, French, Spanish, Irish origin? Are they miraculously present in prevalence among the poor and lazy, but not present among the healthy, active middle-class, those who hit the gym at 7 am?).
Penance and discipline go hand in hand. Penance trains you to discipline, and this discipline will greatly help you in your spiritual growth. Penance is passion at a very, very small level, but it is training to ascend to higher levels of spiritual life.
Penance is gym for the soul.
In life, nothing can be obtained without sacrifice. As this very day clearly shows.